I'm nothing if not an introspective type fellow. My favorite LP for much of the time I was in college was Paul Simon's Hearts and Bones. The LP is intensely personal examining the difference between a feeling and a thought, when one contradicts the other, and if the two can ever be the same or co-exist. With his erudite lyrics, Simon looks so far within himself it almost feels that if he looks any deeper his five foot four frame will disappear altogether.
When the follow-up LP came out in 1986, I wasn't sure what to expect. I couldn't imagine he could continue down the same track without completely losing himself. And he didn't. While many of the lyrics of the songs on Graceland are in the same vein as Hearts and Bones, the music is so much more joyful with its South African sound. "He is a foreign man surrounded by the sound..." During a hard summer the LP was my salvation- by itself it was almost enough to restore my faith in things- the music simply blew me away. That faith was tested when I began to work for this fine company way back in the olden days. In the store we had a free jukebox full of 45's for customers to play. There were about six songs from Graceland on the jukebox so for eight hours a day I heard the same six songs about a billion times. As a result I couldn't listen to the LP for years. Still if I had to choose one song to represent much of what my life has been it would be Graceland, a great song about redemption. "Losing love is like a window to your heart. Everybody sees you're blown apart, everybody feels the wind blow..."
Last Friday I took my own personal little pilgrimage down to Shakopee to see Simon team up with Bob Dylan for a concert at Canterbury Park the day after a period (an exclamation point? a question mark!) was placed at the end of a week that will forever change the way I live and feel. Appropriately and mostly out of desperation and necessity I went all by myself although there was never a moment during the concert that I felt alone. I'll never quite escape who was there with me all along. When Simon sang the song Graceland I couldn't stop shaking. When he sang "Sometimes even music cannot substitute for tears" from the song The Cool Cool River, my heart raced (and ached a bit).
Simon is a far better songwriter than he is a performer. His studied manner and quiet voice needed the punch provided by his nine piece band. (I doubt he'll ever qualify to become a member of the Traveling Wilburys.) He did manage to reclaim Bridge Over Troubled Water as his own turning it into less the spiritual it is in its Simon and Garfunkel arrangement and more into a biographical prayer. The highlight of his set was Slip Slidin Away, a quintessential Simon song. "My love for you is so overpowering I'm afraid that it will disappear."
Dylan offered yet another solid effort opening with the Stanley Brothers' bluegrass gospel tune, Alleluia I'm Ready To Go. The band performed the near hymn in perfect foot stomping ole' hootenanny style. The rest of the setlist was less than adventurous relying heavily on material written in the 60's. He did do a nice rendition of Desolation Row one of his best epic "poem" songs (although it suffered by the news that he debuted Highlands, the 16 minute finale to Time Out of Mind, last Friday in Chula Vista, CA). Dylan's set was punctuated perfectly by Mother Nature. He sang, "When the rain is blowing in your face," from Make You Feel My Love just as it began to lightly rain. When he reached the chorus of Stuck Inside a Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again the thunder eerily boomed along with the ominous message. "Oh mama can this really be the end?" The high point was a deeply moving Not Dark Yet, one of the best songs from Time Out of Mind. Last year when the song was performed it was most often too fast and too metallic failing to capture the intimacy of the studio recording. This version however was straight from the heart. Dylan's sad, almost whisper like singing played off perfectly with new guitarist Charlie Sexton's mesmerizing riff. "There's not even room enough to be anywhere. It's not dark yet but it's getting there."
Besides Sexton the biggest change to this leg of the Never Ending Tour is the addition of a joke each night. So far we have heard, "We had trouble getting here on time. We got a flat. There was a fork in the road..." "I had trouble sleeping last night. I didn't want to wake the sleeping bag." In Shakopee we got to hear, "We gotta get going. Gotta get the hammer and hit the saccckkkk..."
The youthful and nostalgic looking crowd seemed disengaged for much of the night. Ambiance was somewhat lacking what with the smell of horses (which I guess makes sense seeing it was at a horse track) mixing with the smell of incense. The distance between me and others can best be described by fact that as hemp related smells swirled around me I reached into my pocket and grabbed a cough drop to suck. I guess we all have our own medicine we must take. It was fun to see the two icons perform four songs together beginning with a bizarre reading of Sound of Silence. Dylan's harmonies danced all around Simon's melody. The song was saved by a harmonica solo from Dylan along with his wonderful enunciation of the lyrics, "And the words of the prophets are written on the subway wall." Must have meant something to Bob. They closed with a joyful Knockin on Heaven's Door almost making it sound like quite the peaceful place to be.